Witch moonHallowe'en Tunes



In October 1994, I realized that I was going to be performing on Hallowe'en night. I thought it might be amusing to play some tunes suitable for the occasion. After all, Hallowe'en derives from the ancient Celtic New Year festival Samhain. So I solicited suggestions from the members of the IRTRAD-L traditional music mailing list as to what tunes would be appropriate to play on Hallowe'en (Oíche Shamhna).

Now that I've got this posted, I'm going to keep collecting suggestions. I invite all of you to submit your own favourites. In a little while I may actually insert a forms processor to collect this information, but for the moment, just send e-mail.

Mail Send e-mail to us. Unfortunately, due to the increasing amount of spam we are receiving, we find it necessary to install a manual spam filter to protect ourselves from programs that automatically gather e-mail addresses from the Net. When you click to send us mail, your browser should automatically generate a blank e-mail message addressed to harp@NOSPAMstandingstones.com. You need to edit this manually, removing the characters NOSPAM, before you send the message.

Note: "Samhain" should be pronounced SAH-wun , or possibly "SAH-vun".

Tunes Actually Used by Witches

In the trial of John Douglas and eight women (belonging to Tranent) for witchcraft, on 3d May 1659, where the pannels confessed, among other things, that they had certain merry meetings with the devil, at which they were entertained with music, John Douglas being their piper; and that two of the tunes to which they danced were Kilt thy coat, Maggie, and Come this way with me, &c.

The official report concerning the meeting of witches at North Berwick in 1591 gives us the names of two songs or tunes, 'Cummer goe ye on before' and 'The silly bit chicken'.

We read of the reel at the extraordinary trial of witches (1591) with which James VI was acquainted. Here, it was averred "Geilles Duncan did go before them playing a reill."

Henry George Farmer
A History of Music in Scotland
London, 1947
p. 232

Of the tunes mentioned, only one has been identified. "Kilt thy coat, Maggie" can be found in the Skene manuscript, c. 1620. It has been recorded by the Baltimore Consort on their CD On the Banks of Helicon: Early Music of Scotland . I have posted a review of this recording.

Tunes with Appropriate Titles

Devil in the Kitchen, Devil Among the Tailors, De'il Stick Da Minister, Devil in Dublin, The Devil and the Dirk, Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, Deil Tak the Breeks, etc.

Old Hag You Have Killed Me, Hag at the Churn, The Hag with the Money, etc.

Fairies' Hornpipe, The Fairy Reel, Da Ferry Reel, An tSí Bheag is an tSí Mhór, The Fairy Rath, King of the Rath, King of the Fairies, The Fairy Queen, Fairies' Well, The Fiddler Around the Fairy Tree, The Fairy Toddler, The Fairy Hurlers, The Green Fairy Dogs of Loch Gynack, Fairy Haunts, The Fairy Jig, etc.

The Banshee, The Banshee's Cry, The Water Kelpie, Da Trowie Burn, Port na bPúcaí, The Ghost of Bunglass, The Haunt of the Gnomes, The Haunted House (by Vincent Broderick), The Big Grey Man of Ben Macduibh, Our Highland Cousin (Barbara Magone version)—joke from Valley of the Moon fiddle camp

The Warlock, Witch of the Glen, Witch of the Wave, Wizard's Walk, Tam Lin, The Witches

The Bonnie Broom, Down the Broom (could be a command to a witch, also)

Teribus ("Its strange title is thought to be a pre-Christian invocation 'Tyr halb us ye Tyr ye Odin'.")

Smash the Windows, There Was an Old Woman Tossed Up in a Blanket

The Enchanted Island, The Magic Slipper

The Man Who Died and Rose Again (also suitable for Easter), The Separation of Soul and Body, The Warrior's Grave, I Buried my Wife and Danced on Top of Her, Bivouac of the Dead

The Haunting (Neil Dickie, Highland piper)—the title track of a Baal Tinne album
The Howling Dogs of Samhain (Michael Robinson)—ultra-obscure, no one knows it but me, and I wrote it a few years ago, not just for this list!

Tunes With Spooky Stories Attatched

The Gold Ring, The Black Mare of Fanad, Bean a' Tí ar Clár (version of Bean a' Tí ar Lár), Paddy's Rambles through the Park, Never Was Piping So Gay, Tarraing agus Buail Arís (Pull Out the Knife and Stick it Again)

Some suggestions from Chad McAnally:

I've seen some episodes of this show on Discovery Channel. Actually it was quite well done for a low-budget show. I wonder did they mean The Boys of the Town?

There's a French-Canadian tune Reel du Pendu (The Hanged Man's Reel) that may fit in this section, although he didn't actually get hanged in the end.

Tunes That Sound Appropriate For Hallowe'en

Plenty of tunes can be made to sound fairly spooky if played right, but there is one tune whose kinship to the theme music for The Addams Family and the Alfred Hitchcock show makes it uniquely suitable for the occasion—Jim Sullivan's The Pumpherston Hornpipe.


Book Check out the links page for additional references.



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